In a new report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as part of its examination of the UK, 97 children’s charities from across England warn that critical children’s rights issues must be urgently addressed by the UK Government to prevent worsening impacts on the most vulnerable children.
Led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), it sets out civil society’s assessment of how well the UK is respecting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and reveals that, due to Government failures, children’s rights have worsened in many areas since the UN’s last examination in 2016.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN on 20 November 1989 and was ratified by the UK Government in 1991. It applies to all children aged 17 and under and sets out the minimum standards for their treatment.
Although there have been some improvements, the report concludes that children remain worryingly low on the political agenda in England. Despite some progress to embed children’s rights in UK Government decision-making, their rights and voices are regularly overlooked. England is lagging behind other parts of the UK in taking forward its child rights obligations, with growing anti-rights rhetoric and plans to repeal the Human Rights Act presenting a grave and immediate threat to the rights of all children.
Sadly, the report shows the Covid-19 pandemic impacted every area of children’s lives and exacerbated many existing inequalities, for example, those in poverty falling further behind their peers at school and worsening mental health. The current cost-of-living crisis is now putting children and their families under the most unprecedented financial strain of a generation and intensifying the effects of child poverty, which has increased since 2016 to 3.9 million, driven by regressive welfare policies that fail to take account of children’s best interests. Yet despite this, there is still no UK Government strategy or binding targets to address child poverty.
The report also highlights that significant discrimination and structural inequalities persist for Black, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children across many aspects of their lives. They are more likely to be excluded from school and racial disproportionality continues in children’s interaction with the police and the youth justice system.
The charities are calling on the UK Government to commit to addressing the UN Committee’s recommendations by developing a robust children’s rights action plan that will ensure rights are respected in all areas of children’s lives and that they get the bright future they are entitled to.
Concerning issues highlighted in the report include:
- The negative impact of austerity policies on cuts to children’s services have become clearer. Despite some positive developments to children’s social care legislation and the Government’s acceptance of many of the recommendations in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, funding for children’s and youth services have been heavily cut, while the number of children needing care or protection has risen. Although recent funding commitments are welcome, this is not nearly enough to reverse over a decade of underfunding.
- Although there is greater recognition of children’s mental health issues, and how this impacts across all areas of their lives, alongside some welcome investment, the sharp increase in the number of children with mental health problems, exacerbated by the pandemic, means that children often struggle to access services due to high thresholds and long waiting times. 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years in 2022 had a mental health problem.
- Violence against children in institutions, as well as police use of force, remains troublingly prevalent. Some of our most vulnerable children, including those in prison or in mental health inpatient units, and children with SEND, frequently experience restraint and other restrictive practices and use of isolation, including in school.
- There has been severe regression in relation to protecting the rights of children in the asylum system, most recently through measures in the Nationality and Borders Act and children being housed in hotels, which has resulted in many going missing and being trafficked.
Even before the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic, increasing numbers of children – from the early years to adulthood – suffer serious mental health problems that require referral to specialist services. Yet despite some additional funding and Government commitments to improve access, record numbers of children and young people in crisis remain on waiting lists for help. These children, many of whom are already at considerable disadvantage, need to be front and centre of a fully funded Children’s Mental Health Strategy. Anything less will undermine the emotional wellbeing of a generation
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB)
Our report plainly shows that children in the UK are being failed across many aspects of their lives. The Government must take urgent action to place children at the heart of its decision-making by publishing a children’s rights action plan, with a clear road map for how it will meaningfully improve the daily experiences of our most vulnerable children. It must also embed children’s rights into domestic law to ensure we don’t fall further behind progress being made in Scotland and Wales
Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law
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